Want to tone up but not sure where to begin with your New Year’s fitness resolution? Look no further. According to a recent Harvard Medical School newsletter, there are five ideal exercises that can whip your body into shape. (Bonus: Being young, skinny and adept at all things sports-related not required.)
“If you’re not an athlete or serous exerciser, these exercises are good for an intro to fitness,” according to Sabrena Merrill, an exercise physiologist and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. “Once you have mastered them, you can still do these—just enhance your workout by upping the intensity.”
Being low impact, easy on the joints and beneficial to nearly every major muscle in the body, it’s easy to see why swimming has been labeled the perfect workout. “Swimming is one of those workouts that’s highly adaptable,” says Merrill. “From light laps to bursts of speed to different strokes, there’s something for everyone.”
Tai Chi may not look like an intense workout, but it doesn’t have to be in order to build a strong mind and body. By incorporating slow, graceful movements, this Chinese martial art boosts balance and focus with its moving meditation. “Tai Chi incorporates breathing, mindfulness, being aware of your body and being connected to what is going on in your body,” says Kelvin Gary, New York City personal trainer and owner of Body Space Fitness.
“If you ask me, this should be the number one exercise on this list,” says Gary. “What people don’t realize is that everyone can do resistance training and benefit from it.” Whether it’s traditional dumbbells, kettlebells or body weight exercises such as pushups, strength training helps you do more than just break a sweat. You’ll build muscle mass, maintain bone density, prevent osteoporosis, rehab from injuries, decrease body fat and increase mindfulness, notes Gary.
Walking is perhaps the most overlooked form of exercise because virtually anyone can make it a body-boosting workout—assuming you know how. “If you’re going to take on walking as your primary mode of exercise,” says Merrill, “then after a while your body will adapt, and it won’t be as much of a stimulus.” To counteract that, simply increase the duration and intensity over time by adding hills or speed to your route. You can even wear a weighted backpack. “By increasing the intensity, it challenges the muscles a little differently, and it’s still low impact,” Merrill adds.
OK, Kegel exercises won’t trim your tummy, but they’ll do something that’s equally as important for your core: strengthen the pelvic muscles (think bladder control). “Most people sit for extended hours throughout the day, which really weakens the pelvic floor,” explains Merrill. “As you age, if you don’t have a strong pelvic floor, you will have problems with incontinence.” To combat that, Merrill recommends taking traditional Kegel exercises a step further and doing Pilates or yoga, which will strengthen the entire core for optimal muscle tone, injury prevention and overall functioning.